Malay leadership: Interest, protection and their imposition

This is a provocative essay which I chanced upon in Singaporeans for Democracy. You can read the whole essay here. Written by Mr Zulfikar Mohamad Shariff, the essay essentially highlights the problems of being a Malay MP under the PAP government – how do you walk on the political tightrope, with competing and almost contradictory pressures from the PAP, National interests, and the Malay community? Its a very sad reality that as much as the government says it represents the ideals of the people, somehow it is usually at the expense of many, even whole communities for that matter.

I knew about the controversy surrounding the Compulsory National Schooling and how it threatened the existence of the Madrasahs. What I did not know was this:

“What was notable in the madrasah/ Compulsory National Schooling (CNS) issue was the way the Malay MPs acted. Mr Maidin Packer, then Parliamentary Secretary for Ministry of Education, supported the PAP’s position for the closure of madrasahs. Zainul Abidin Rasheed, then Parliamentary Secretary for Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as a more polished politician, said that he has not made up his mind. Abdullah Tarmugi, then Minister of Community Development and Sports and Minister in charge of Muslim Affairs and his other colleagues were quiet. This despite the community submitting a petition with over 33,000 signatures. This despite the PAP government’s arguments debated in Cyber Ummah and with all its flaws shown. “

In the ensuing debate surrounding the madrasah issue, what was soon revealed were the fallacies of their arguments, ultimately of how they were placed in a position of impossibility. I believe this soon led to a new type of Malay leadership where, rather than make public appeals on behalf of the community, such leaders were encouraged to use closed door discussions with high ranking Ministers to state their cause. Some argue this is a more effective method but at the cost of political accountbility, personal freedom and ultimately the respect of the Malay community themselves.

“Throughout the issues of SAF, madrasah, discrimination, tudung, the Malay MPs have not only failed to protect the interest of the community they were supposed to lead, they were at the forefront in attacking the community.”

How does one be a community leader, but not make public appeals on behalf of their community? How does one justify the party’s position which compromises the community’s standing in the society? Arguments that the madrasahs were not on par with the mainstream schools is unnecessary, noting the extra religious subjects plus the complexity of the subjects itself. And the fact is that the madrasahs were improving during the 1990s.

I never knew the book by Dr Lily Zubaidah Rahim (She’s a doctor! I apologise for calling her a Ms all this while. Please forgive me Dr Lily!) created such a controversy that forced the then PM Goh to respond. And his flimsy arguments and blatant euphemisms ultimately showed how true Dr Lily Zubaidah Rahim was. And Mr Abdullah Tarmugi even contradicted his statement, highlighting the fact that the Malays were lagging behind (25% of 12000 workers retrenched in 1998 were Malays!).

“But the Malay MPs cannot be taken as the leaders of the community. First, they were not voted into parliament by the Malays alone. Second, those who voted for them did not do so because they wanted the interest of the Malays to be protected. Third, they have failed to protect the community’s interest.”

I didn’t realise how true he was until I read this. And its very true. Forcing Malays as part of the GRCs does not mean we are voting for the Malays per se. And saying that this is to ensure the continued Malay representation is utter bullshit and slap to all our (Malay) faces. The reason on why Mr Yatiman Yusof was elected was particularly hilarious:

“They voted for him so that he could take care of the gardens and drainage in Tampines. “

Ha! I am highly amused. What is the standing of the Malay MPs today? Above anything else, they seem more reactive towards proclamations of high ranking Ministers rather than take the initiative to make public appeals on behalf of the community. “Oh the Minister says we have a high divorce rate and dysfunctional families. Lets do something about it!”

All for the sake of peace and stability? I don’t think so. As Mr Zulkifli emphasized, there is definitely ulterior motives involved, all for the sake of entrenching the almost God-like powers of the government.

People keep asking me whether I want to be a politician. After reading this, do you think it is wise?

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13 Responses to Malay leadership: Interest, protection and their imposition

  1. yong ping says:

    if it’s not feasible to go into politics then be an activist!:)

  2. ~fatma says:

    i agree with tt haha..ey just follow on wad e govt says..it’s quite silly if u think abt it..seems like ey just sit arnd n wait for sth to be said den act on it :s

  3. Tini says:

    Good entry. I think it’s interesting how Singapore politics works. Make it look like a multi-racial entity, but in fact, everything’s built to serve the dominant ones. I’m not a Marxist, but it’s true. Malay leaders don’t have a say, they’re just there to put up a facade.

  4. Libertas says:

    Thanks! I’m always happy to get feedback and criticisms on my articles, and hopefully create debate so that such issues (especially about the Malay community) can be discussed even further. Just wondering who you are. Do you have a site of your own?

  5. Tini says:

    Nope, I was just surfing the net to look for my research stuff and I chanced upon this page so yeah=).Interestingly enough,I’m writing up on the Malay community so all this reading is leaving me a lot to think about. Glad to share my views.

  6. Libertas says:

    Are in uni or something? Very keen to know what your research is all about! 😀

  7. Tini says:

    As a matter of fact, I am in uni. But honestly, the Malay community is not my forte. I ‘just happen’ to be taking this module which I thought was going to be boring but I guess I did learn a lot of new things. I bet you are heading for uni as well?

  8. Libertas says:

    Yes I am. In like two years time. Serving my National Service now. Sigh. Hopefully I can do aa few modules of Malay Studies in uni too..

  9. Yes, I think you should seriously consider politics. 🙂 I must admit that I’m not a Malay. However, if you decide to stand in my constituency, there’s a good chance I will vote for you, regardless of which party you decide to join. 😛

    You are very bright and the world is your playground. 🙂 Actually, there are a lot of bright people out there (in Singapore). The reason why we have issues with our current political system is that many of them are successful in their careers and living a good life, and they dun care enough to try to make a difference.

    I’m sure that you will be successful in any career of your choice. Ultimately, the decision is yours: you can choose to return from LSE to try to make a small difference for Singapore and for the Malay community (and also risk getting martyred in the process) or you can run along and become the typical successful urban professional, perhaps in Singapore, perhaps abroad. 🙂

  10. bal....iqbal says:

    last time hor, lee kuan yew say can go the school with the tudung one, but now hor, with the islam which is revive he say cannot.

    This one hor taken from here one>>> http://www.fareedzakaria.com/articles/other/culture.html

    LKY: I would not want to say that because the French having ruled Algeria for many years know the kind of problems that they are faced with. My approach would be, if some Muslim girl insists on coming to school with her headdress on and is prepared to put up with that discomfort, we should be prepared to put up with the strangeness. But if she joined the customs or immigration department where it would be confusing to the millions of people who stream through to have some customs officer looking different, she must wear the uniform. That approach has worked in Singapore so far.

  11. shidah says:

    racial politics isnt allowed but ethnic political representation is. which, by the way, i think contradicts the whole meritocracy rhethoric, don’t you think? lets just call it wayang people. haha.

  12. Dimas Nanda Raditya says:

    Hi I’m Dimas from Indonesia…I’m actually quite amazed by your analitycal views regarding the present political system of Singapore. People of your knowledge who are aware on how politics work, should undoubtedly participate in Singaporean politics.

    I personally believe that in order for a community to truly have certain representatives within a parliament or any legislative body,it requires also a truly democratic electoral process so that these representatives should not onlybe virtualy visible but also determined to protect the interest of the community in which they represent.

    I’m not saying that western style democracy is suitable for all governments to adhere to, but I vehemently believe that democracy has brought several marginalised ethnic groups in Indonesia to fully represent their interests. Albeit democracy hasn’t performed its best in Indonesia due to lax law enforcements, and lack of political education , it still remains as the best solution for our country to fulfill the dreams of our foundingfathers as stated within our constitution.

  13. tokselehon says:

    We need good credible Malays in both camps of politics in Singapore.To decide for a political career is surely a good move for you.You are free to join any political party as you wish.

    But I must say that, to be really credible, one must serve whole heartedly fulltime as a politician if one being elected as an MP -don’t just MIA or AWOL as you wish.Soon you would go nowhere.Hence your early or late exit in politics without satisfying your goal as a true credible politician.

    YES, YOU CAN,
    tokselehon.

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